Top 5 snacking myths – Tufts

Myth-busting tips: If you are truly hungry between meals or prefer multiple smaller meals, make purposefully healthy choices. Reach for unprocessed foods (like fruits, low-fat plain yogurt, veggies, and nut/seeds). Remember, everything you eat or drink is a chance to nourish your body. Snacking is an opportunity to add nutrients you may fall short on (like calcium from dairy or fortified plant-based “milks,” for example). Rely on Nutrition Facts labels and ingredient lists instead of front-of-package claims. And eat that piece of fruit instead of a bag of chips, not in addition to it. See “Healthy Snack Ideas” for more information.

Healthy snack ideas

When choosing snacks, select whole foods with little processing, and look for sources of healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, whole grains, and “short-fall” nutrients like calcium and fiber. For example:

  • Fruit of your choice
  • Unsweetened yogurt (add your own fresh or frozen fruit)
  • A handful of dried fruit and nut “trail mix”
  • Hummus with fresh vegetables, such as baby carrots, bell pepper slices, broccoli florets, and cherry tomatoes
  • Whole-grain bread with nut butter
  • A tuna snack pack with whole grain crackers
  • A cheese stick with an apple or small bunch of grapes
  • A banana spread lightly with nut butter
  • Edamame (green soybeans)
  • A mini cheese with a few whole grain crackers
  • A hard-boiled egg and some fruit or veggies
  • Air-popped popcorn or individual bags (hold the butter and salt)

Myth 2: Low fat snacks (like pretzels) are the best choice

Pretzels have little or no fat, but they are made from refined grain and tend to have a lot of salt, both of which are associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Many low- and reduced-fat snacks are low in beneficial nutrients, particularly fiber—and high in detrimental ones. Snacks and other foods labeled “low fat” may be appealing if you are trying to cut calories, but “low fat” does not necessarily equate with “low calorie.”

The truth is, fat plays an important role in your diet. Dietary fat provides fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K and is critical for the absorption of these nutrients and some phytochemicals. The trick is to choose your fats wisely. Mono- and polyunsaturated fats from plant-based sources like plant oils, nuts, and avocado are associated with health benefits, while intake of saturated fats (found in animal products, palm oils, and coconut oil) are clearly associated with higher LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and heart disease.

Myth-busting tips: Don’t let a “low-fat” label be the reason you choose a snack (or any food, for that matter). Look, instead, for mono- and -polyunsaturated fats over saturated, and for the presence of other nutrients (such as natural fiber) and the absence of refined flours, added sugars, and sodium.

Myth 3: Snacking will spoil your appetite

A small snack may take the edge off your hunger (which can be good), but that doesn’t always translate into eating less at meals (which is not good).

It’s generally understood that we don’t make the best food decisions when we’re hungry. While the biological reasons for this are not well understood, one possibility is that when our blood glucose levels drop, triggering hunger, we instinctively reach for foods that will replenish those blood sugars quickly—sweets and refined carbs. Hence, we are often advised not to shop for food when hungry and not to sit down to a big celebratory meal when ravenous. A small (healthy) snack may help you choose wisely and eat that meal more slowly and with moderation.

Unfortunately, a study published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found participants only partially compensated for the calories in a snack when they sat down to their main meal. Women compensated to a smaller extent than men, suggesting that snacking may contribute to excess calorie intake (and therefore weight gain).

Myth-busting tips: Know your body. If you tend to lose your willpower or wolf down food when hungry, have a plan and keep portion controlled healthy snacks on hand to take the edge off your hunger between meals.

Myth 4: Healthy snacks take effort

There is a common misconception that healthy eating takes extra time. But what could be easier and tastier than grabbing a piece of juicy fruit or a sweet and savory handful of crunchy nuts with chewy dried fruit? It can take some initial planning to restock your pantry and fridge with healthy snack options like the ones in our “Healthy Snack Ideas” box, but once you find new favorites and develop new habits, healthy snacking can be easy.

Myth-busting tips: To make healthy snacking effortless (and mindless), keep a bowl of fruit on the counter or front-and-center in the fridge; buy pre-cut veggies or prep some on weekends to make snacking (and meal-prep) easier. Set aside some time to read labels in the market to find products lower in refined flour, added sugars, sodium, and saturated fat. Whole grain ingredients are a plus. Nuts add healthy fats, fiber, and vitamins and minerals. Consider splitting large jars and boxes of snack items into individual portions to reduce the risk of overindulging when the urge to snack strikes.

Myth 5: We need to snack

The fact is, there is no research to indicate healthy individuals need to eat at any specific set intervals. Some people report feeling better or having an easier time with weight maintenance if they stick to three meals a day, while others prefer six small meals (note that these are “meals,” not traditional snack foods like chips, cookies, and candy bars).

Snacks are not a requirement—in fact, they are often little more than a habit. You may be accustomed to munching while watching TV or find it hard to sleep without your usual bedtime snack. Examining why we eat (as well as when and what) can help us identify areas for change.

Myth-busting tips: Eat (healthy choices) if you’re hungry—and stop when you’re satisfied. Try to avoid distractions (TV, reading, working) and pre-portion items so you don’t override your hungry/full signals. If you’re thirsty, have an (unsweetened) drink; if you’re bored, read a book, do a puzzle, or listen to a TED talk; if you’re low energy, take a walk; if you’re sad or lonely, call a friend.

A little planning and mindfulness can make the difference between a high-calorie, low-nutrient, unnecessary snack and an energizing, satisfying, nourishing, necessary between-meal boost.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Top 5 snacking myths – Tufts

  1. Have you found new research that has turned you off of coconut oil? I’m still using it and am wondering if it is no longer considered healthy because of the saturated fat level…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am using MCT oil which is coconut oil but with a twist. It goes directly to the liver and you get energy immediately from it. Check it out. But, you can’t cook with it. Still use coconut oil for that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Not sure I need energy! Trying to ditch the Christmas poundage once again – an annual exercise. Glad to hear I can still use coconut oil – I use it for my veggie stir-fry in the morning every day. Hubby was giving me grief about it. Not that he is any judge. He uses butter like it is the only food left on earth worth eating. But I will have a look at MCT oil – thanks for the tip!

    Liked by 1 person

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